How to Influence Content Sharing
For marketers, attracting eyeballs is a perennial challenge. You can create the best content in the world but if no one sees it, it’s like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. So much content is produced every day that it’s getting increasingly difficult to reach your target audience, much less generate leads. Word of mouth is the communication channel most trusted by B2B audiences, but for that to work you need to inspire people to share your content. How can you do that?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately. I work with a client to create high-level, strategic articles that address business challenges, opportunities, and new developments for an international audience. While timely, the content is designed to be evergreen, so that a piece created six months or a year ago remains relevant and worthy of sharing. I’ve found that some pieces garner only a respectable audience, while others on a similar topic perform phenomenally well. Why is that?
What motivates people to share?
“The Psychology of Sharing,” a new study conducted by the Customer Insight Group of the New York Times, helps explain why some content goes viral by delving into what motivates people to share. The study included three phases: in-person interviews in three major U.S. cities, a week-long “sharing panel,” and a quantitative survey of 2,500 medium-to-heavy online sharers.
According to the study, the five primary reasons people share online include:
- To bring valuable and entertaining content to others: 94 percent carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient, and 49 percent say sharing allows them to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action.
- To define themselves to others: 68 percent share to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about. In the words of a panel participant, “I try to share only information that will reinforce the image I’d like to present: thoughtful, reasoned, kind, interested and passionate about certain things.”
- To grow and nourish our relationships: 73 percent share information because it helps them connect with others who share their interests, and 78 percent because it lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with.
- Self-fulfillment: 69 percent share information because it allows them to feel more involved in the world. An interviewee said, “I enjoy getting comments that I sent great information and that my friends will forward it to their friends because it’s so helpful. It makes me feel valuable.”
- To get the word out about causes or brands: 84 percent share because it’s a way to support causes or issues they care about.
Six distinct sharer personas
The study identified six different sharing personas, defined by emotional motivations, a desired presentation of self, the role of sharing in peoples’ lives, and the value of being the first to share a particular item. It also pointed out the primary vehicle sharers use.
- Altruists primarily share via email, and identify as thoughtful, reliable, helpful, and connected.
- Careerists use LinkedIn as their main network. They share items related to business interests and strategy that they find valuable and will potentially grow their network.
- Hipsters like to share content that will make them appear creative and cutting edge. They’re less likely to use email.
- Boomerangs look for reaction and validation from their posts and prefer Twitter and Facebook.
- Connectors take a relaxed, thoughtful approach and primarily rely on email and Facebook to connect people to events and happenings.
- Selectives share content they feel is informative, mostly via email. As the name implies, they’re careful to share only those items that they think their connections will find relevant.
You may find that your content maps to several of these personas, though one persona will likely predominate. For example, the Careerist persona is the main candidate for the content I describe above, but Selectives and Hipsters also fit the bill.
5 key ways to influence sharing
To influence social sharing, the study recommends incorporating five key factors into your content:
- Appeal to people’s motivation to connect with each other, not just your brand. For example, to engage Careerists, make sure your content delivers strategic information.
- Establish a foundation of trust. Include links to reputable third-party sites to assure your audience that your content is legitimate.
- Keep your message simple. This also helps ensure your message won’t get muddled when it’s shared.
- Appeal to a sense of humor. Content that generates an emotional response like amusement helps foster a deeper engagement with your brand.
- Embrace a sense of urgency. Your content needs to be so timely, insightful, or groundbreaking that it makes people feel they need to share it immediately.
And the number one way people share content? It’s still good old-fashioned email.